Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

I had something like five hundred words typed about this book -- pretty much the whole post -- but I deleted it instead of cut-and-pasting, and then saved over the place I was typing it.

So I'm not going to try to recreate that thought process: it's too frustrating to contemplate. Instead, I'll run through the high points of Raina Telgemeier's 2016 graphic novel Ghosts in a more telegraphic way: it won't be as pretty, and probably not as coherent, but maybe I can hit the same points, more or less.

First: Telgemeier is huge. Probably the best-selling creator of comics stories in the US right now, the center of gravity for a whole area of the industry. I think most people know that by now, but the insularity of the Wednesday Crowd is legendary.

Second: whether on purpose or not, Telgemeier has been on a memoir-fiction alternation for her recent career. This is the second work of fiction, after memoirs Smile and Sisters and previous fiction Drama.

Third: it's the story of Catrina, a tween who moves with her family up the California coast, to the cold and windy town of Bahia de la Luna from somewhere near LA. Yes, that means leaving all her friends and surroundings; that happens just before page one.

Fourth: the family did this for the health of Cat's kid sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis. Maya's condition is progressive, degenerative, and incurable: she will get worse and worse over time. Running, exerting herself -- normal kid stuff -- will progress it more quickly. Bahia's cold chilly climate is better for her than the southern heat, but that's at best a delaying tactic.

Fifth: Bahia is a town full of ghosts, says local boy Carlos. The girls meet him on their first day in town. These are the nice, friendly, dead-relatives kind of ghosts, happy to share time with you, not the haunting or angry kind.

Sixth: Cat is a rationalist, like me. She insists that ghosts aren't real. This is true in the real world, but, unfortunately for her, is not true in this story. I'm personally not entirely happy with stories -- especially those for young people -- that show smart rationalists being proven wrong by inexplicable supernatural stuff, but I guess this is OK, because....

Seventh: Ghosts is, in a quiet, unobtrusive way, about the inevitability of death and the need to make one's peace with that. Maya understands this better than Cat, and so embraces the ghosts more willingly than Cat -- even though doing so runs her a huge risk of advancing her condition seriously.

Eighth: the ghosts in Ghosts are intrinsic to that theme, obviously. How better to accept death than to make friends with people who have already experienced it? I still wish Cat wasn't so obviously proved wrong, but this story had to go this direction.

Ninth and final: Telgemeier is a thoughtful and interesting comics-maker who shouldn't be left  entirely to be enjoyed by pre-adults. I do think her memoirs are her strongest books, still, but Ghosts has its own energy, point of view, and story to tell -- it's well worth reading.

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